In these delicate, gorgeously-written poems, the journey towards accepting the beauty of the body is both a hesitant and a joyful one.
CW: The poem B. Nervosa contains veiled references to eating disorders.
Learning to Dive
We try to insulate ourselves against the cold
with warm wood and soaks of sunshine;
but there’s no antidote for the first bite
of lake water, undulating and green as a snake.
I have to learn to tip head-first
and point my feet, joyous abandonment
to fate and deep water and hidden rocks;
I have to want to sink, be blinded,
be guided only by my own rising breath.
Later I’ll learn to take a running jump;
to cartwheel into unpredictable space;
to twist in mid-air with the pleasure of it,
off swanboats and springboards and shallow steps.
I think — I can’t help it —
about clutching weeds and faltering retinas,
unglamorous ear infections or clouds across my eyes.
A bellyflop’s not pretty; sometimes survival isn’t.
But nothing could be more beautiful than
long bodies slipping through green water,
thunderclouds coming up over the summer,
a heedless decision executed with grace.
How lovely all our bodies seemed in the action
irrevocable, past the point of hesitation,
doing something wonderful by giving way.
There’s a cut-glass jar on your dormitory desk,
with a cut-glass stopper lid that chinks,
its crystal dome ribbed for unspeakable pleasures.
Before she left, the woman who made you said:
“Eat everything you see in the glass.
Eat temptation. Eat pleasure. Eat your own reflection.”
Temptation looks like champagne truffles
from Paris, dusted with white flakes
that might as well be ice, asbestos, lead.
You carry the jar into my room,
step by step, guilt by guilt, and say:
“Let’s split it. You will eat
the truffles, and I (you tell your mother)
I ate everything I could see in the glass.
I ate air, I ate transparency, I swallowed up
nothingness.” A sticky mass of melted guilt
rolls out onto my bed. I am not allowed
the glass, the ribbed cover, the clairvoyant mother.
I will eat your sins from outside the glass,
one by one. I will eat them for lonely years.
I will eat them until I start to starve.
Pressed under glass, I often wonder
how you are these days. Your sins ran out
a few months back. My mouth empty at last.
I feel hungry now: for bread, for love
which tastes like bread with oil and salt.
My mother bakes it twice a week
with hands like living wood, oak or olive,
impossible to shatter, impossible to melt.
I grab my pleasures with both hands,
knead them like dough, like flesh,
like anything that rises. My own guilt shrinks
and flickers out. It was all just a trick of the light.
About Corinna Keefe
Corinna Keefe is a freelance writer currently based in the UK. Her work has previously appeared in Ink Sweat & Tears and Amethyst Review, as well as the anthologies Crossing Lines (Broken Sleep Books), Unheard Of (Enthusiastic Press), and Christmas Together (Candlestick Press).
This poem was written as part of our latest mini-series, Our Body’s Bodies
Everything is written on the body – but what does it mean to write about our bodies in the era of Covid-19? And is it possible to write about bodily experiences in the face of such pervasive and continued violence? Using different modes of writing and art making, Lucy Writers presents a miniseries featuring creatives whose work, ideas and personal experiences explore embodiment, bodily agency, the liberties imposed on, taken with, or found in our bodies. Beginning from a position of multiplicity and intersectionality, our contributors explore their body’s bodies and the languages – visual, linguistic, aural, performance-based and otherwise – that have enabled them to express and reclaim different forms of (dis)embodiment in the last two years. Starting with the body(s), but going outwards to connect with encounters that (dis)connect us from the bodies of others – illness, accessibility, gender, race and class, work, and political and legal precedents and movements – Our Body’s Bodies seeks to shine a light on what we corporally share, as much as what we individually hold true to.
Bringing together work by artistic duo Kathryn Cutler-MacKenzie and Ben Caro, poet Emily Swettenham, writer and poet Elodie Rose Barnes, writer and researcher Georgia Poplett, writer and researcher Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou and many others, as well as interviews with and reviews of work by Elinor Cleghorn, Lucia Osbourne Crowley and Alice Hattrick, Lucy Writers brings together individual stories of what our bodies have endured, carried, suffered, surpassed, craved and even enjoyed, because…these bodies are my body; we are a many bodied being. Touch this one, you move them all, our bodies’ body.
We also welcome pitches and contributions from writers, artists, film-makers and researchers outside of the Lucy Writers’ community. Please enquire for book reviews too.
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Feature image: Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash